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Switzerland/ 7. Public institutions in cultural infrastructure  

7.3 Status and partnerships of public cultural institutions

There are only a few national cultural institutions in Switzerland. These include the Swiss National Library, the Swiss Literary Archive, the Cinémathèque Suisse (see chapter 4.2.2), and the Swiss National Sound Archives, founded in 1987. The Swiss Literary Archive and the National Sound Archives thus accomplish – in close cooperation with the Swiss National Library – one of the tasks set out in the National Library Act. These archives have the task of collecting, cataloguing, and making available to the public contents that are connected in one way or another with Switzerland's history and culture.

The Swiss National Museum has its main building in Zurich and has two additional locations in the different language regions of Switzerland. It has been transformed into an autonomous foundation. The Federal Act on Museums and Collections came into force on 1 January 2010.

Switzerland has one of the highest concentrations of museums in the world. Since 1950, the number of museums in Switzerland has tripled. In 2013, over 13 million visitors to 1 107 museums were recorded.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, a new tendency can be observed in the private collections of contemporary art. Collectors prefer to establish their own museums or collections – often designed and built by internationally renowned architects. Another example of a private initiative is the anonymous group of patrons called "Ladies First", which gave CHF 20 million to the building of a new theatre in the City of Basel.

The Swiss National Film Archive is a foundation financed by the federal state, the Canton of Vaud and the City of Lausanne (see  chapter 4.3).

In Switzerland, there are about 6 000 libraries. Most of the 30 larger libraries (with more than 40 000 000 media units) are university libraries and, at the same time, cantonal and city libraries.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 272 commercial cinemas with 533 screens provided a seating capacity of 101 000 in 2013. About one third of the cinemas and the seats were concentrated in the five largest centres of Switzerland: Zurich, Bern, Basel, Geneva, and Lausanne. According to the film statistics of the Federal Office of Culture, Swiss films hold a market share of 6.2% and thus fall short of the targets defined by the Federal Office of Culture. It must also be noted (unfortunately) that one characteristic feature of theatrical releases in Switzerland – namely, an original version with subtitles – is in decline. About the same regional distribution can be observed in the 25 larger theatres that have their own ensembles and which attracted audiences of 1.49 million during the 2012/2013 season according to the Schweizerischen Bühnenverband (Swiss Theatre Association). The Schauspielhaus Zürich, for example, is one of the leading theatre houses in the German-speaking part of Europe, and the same can be said about the Théâtre Vidy Lausanne in the French-speaking part of Europe.

Interesting discussions are taking place on burden sharing among large cultural institutions. For more information, see chapter 7.1.

The role played by city marketing and cultural tourism strategies is becoming more important for cultural institutions. Interesting examples are the Cultural and Congress Centre set up in Lucerne and several (summer) festivals. Further building work planned over the next five years in Lucerne will add a centre for theatre and musical productions.

Cooperation between the public and private sector plays a significant role and is mostly organised around the modern concept of "matching grants". There are currently more then 10 000 foundations with a public interest, of which around 1 500 have a cultural aim. Since 2001, a new platform called "Swiss Foundations" has been representing grant-awarding foundations in Switzerland. Its aims are to establish quality standards for foundations and to promote the role of foundations in different kinds of partnerships.

Several federal players work together with private partners on various projects (see chapter 7.1). An important private partner cooperating in – or even initiating – public projects is Migros – one of Switzerland's main wholesalers. According to its corporate by-laws, Migros spends around 0.5% of its retail turnover and 1% of its wholesale turnover (around CHF 120 million in 2013) on cultural and social activities ( For example, Migros has created an online cultural support database (

Public-private partnerships can be observed on all levels. One example is "Swiss Films" Association to promote Swiss cinema abroad, originally initiated by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Film Centre, and the Swiss Short Film Agency. With the new division of tasks pursuant to the Culture Promotion Act the Federal Office of Culture ist responsible for financing "Swiss Films".

In the past few years, there has been a shift from "patronage" toward "sponsorship", the latter being complemented by other forms of cooperation. There is a trend among some large companies to develop their corporate identity by organising their own concerts or theatre tours. Furthermore, in contrast to classical sponsorship, investors are now commissioning or developing projects together with cultural institutions or artists. A shift away from traditional or classical culture toward event-oriented culture can also be observed.

Chapter published: 13-11-2014

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